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Why the Epic Games and Apple lawsuit is a big deal

Apple is threatening to remove Unreal Engine from all Mac and iOS devices, putting dozens of developers and titles at risk.

Fortnite was dramatically pulled from the App Store several weeks ago and is no longer available on any iOS device, including all iPhones and iPads. It’s the result of an ongoing legal feud between the game’s developer Epic Games and Apple over App Store percentage cuts.

In summary, Epic Games released a direct payment scheme inside the iOS version of Fortnite that went against Apple’s terms of service. To have a game or app available on the App Store all payments must go through Apple, who then receives a percentage of each transaction. Apple removed Fortnite because of this violation, which prompted Epic Games to release a wave of anti-Apple in-game cosmetics and launch the hashtag #FreeFortnite on Twitter.

The debacle has gotten so heated that Epic has taken it upon itself to recreate the debut trailer for the original Macintosh computer, which is based on George Orwell’s 1984, as a form of protest. There’s something horrendously ironic about one goliath company attacking another by satirising a novel that specifically criticised overly corporate practices, but here we are.

How would this lawsuit affect Epic Games?

The issue has now become far larger than just Fortnite’s existence on the App Store.

Apple is now attempting to block Epic’s development tool Unreal Engine from being compatible with iOS devices, which is used by dozens of film studios, top end game publishers, and indie creators. Pulling Unreal Engine would cause disruption to a huge amount of mobile games and console titles, as Epic Games would no longer be able to update games or add new titles onto the store that were built using its tools and assets.

In addition, Unreal Engine’s future would become incredibly uncertain. Developers of new titles are far less likely to invest in a game engine that isn’t guaranteed to be supported by all compatible devices several years from now. Studios need to know that they’ll be able to launch a game ahead of time and this lawsuit throws Unreal Engine’s reliability as a service into question.

A court order will protect Epic Games and Unreal Engine until late September, but if more permanent solutions aren’t put in place it could lead to major upset across the games industry and affect the future of both mobile and console titles.

Does Epic Games have any legal ground to stand on?

Epic Games does have some merit to its legal argument. Apple has an insanely large dominance over the mobile gaming market and its App Store policies force nearly every single gaming developer to hand cash over just for the privilege of existing. The company essentially has a tax in place that all must adhere to simply because it is such a huge platform that nearly everyone can access.

Equally, however, Epic Games knew what the policies were surrounding in-game purchases and microtransactions but still proceeded to violate its contract with Apple anyway. Had it gone about this issue less aggressively and publicly it may have had a more successful outcome, or at least one that doesn’t put its other business assets at risk.

The biggest takeaway here is just how huge Apple and Epic Games have become, and how intrinsic and necessary they are for the industry to run at its current pace. Developers need Apple to get their games out to billions of people and similarly rely on Unreal Engine to make functioning products.

Both of these companies have monopolised different sectors of the industry and neither one of them is better than the other, despite Epic Games’ attempt to demonise its rival with misplaced 1984 references. Perhaps we’d be better off dissolving both into smaller enterprises that aren’t absolutely essential to keep gaming afloat. Epic Games will have a monster of a lawsuit to endure for now though and it’s likely to drag on until at least next year.

Either way, iOS players shouldn’t expect any updates to Fortnite in the immediate future. It’ll be a while before things settle back to normality.